To Kill A Mockingbird

Study Guide

Welcome to YPT’s new study guide format! As you scroll through the guide you will find the usual sections included in all our guides: curriculum connections, director and designer’s notes, discussion questions, units of study and more. You will also be able to click on templates, worksheets and graphic organizers. If you wish to create your own lesson plan from the study guide copy, we have created a lesson plan template for your use. We hope you will find this guide to be a useful resource. Should you have any questions or feedback or have inquiries about the use of this guide (which is copyright protected), please feel free to contact Karen Gilodo, Associate Artistic Director, Education at



Thematic Overview

“This is their home. Since some of us have made it this way for them, they might as well learn to cope with it.”
-Atticus Finch

When do we start teaching young people the hard lessons in life? When do we teach them that sometimes life isn’t fair, that justice and the law can be two very different things, and that firmly held beliefs will be challenged. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean Louise (Scout) undergoes a process of moving from innocence to experience as she learns about the predicaments of those around her. Why won’t Tom Robinson get a fair trial? Why would Bob Ewell treat his daughter so harshly? And just who is Boo Radley? In this study guide we have created exercises that will encourage students to consider, question and evaluate fairness, justice and their own belief systems. Students will be prompted to “walk in someone else’s shoes” and try on different perspectives as they arrive at their own opinions. To Kill a Mockingbird is controversial. Students will likely have a multitude of reactions to the play. It is our hope that this study guide may act as a resource for open and honest discussion and exploration of this work of literature-and theatre- that raises important questions. On September 23rd YPT is hosting a forum to discuss the iconic and controversial nature of To Kill a Mockingbird (click here for more information: We hope you will join us and encourage you to send the invitation to the parents/guardians of your students so that we might help young people grapple with these tough issues as a community.



Curriculum:  Language, English, Social Studies (Equity and Social Justice: From Theory to Practice, Canadian and World Studies (Law), The Arts (Drama).

Character Education: Fairness Responsibility Integrity
Themes: Law vs. Justice, Innocence to Experience, Changing Perspectives.


If one person isn’t free, then really, none of us are free.

It may have been someone famous who first offered the preceding thought. However, when I use this line, I am consciously quoting a young audience member, Omari. This galvanizing statement was his response to an audience talkback question, “Why did Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman keep going back, risking her freedom to free others who were still enslaved?”

Freedom, fairness, justice, and equality are principles for which wars have been waged everywhere from the schoolyard to the battlefield. Laws have been enacted, sometimes after long debates and stubborn resistance, in an attempt to enshrine these principles within practices that make them accessible without the need to fight.

But freedom, fairness, justice, and equality can’t exist only in the abstract of policies, rules, or laws. These principles must be made manifest in people’s actions — and more importantly, palpably felt by all involved. Otherwise, we can have no confidence that the principled intentions of laws and rules have been honoured.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, the parallel stories of Tom Robinson and Boo Radley unfold in a way that causes the central character Scout to sharply experience the ugliness of racism and the trauma of stigmatization. By standing  “in the shoes” of these two wronged men, or learning to see things from their perspective, Scout loses a bit of her innocence  ̶  but her sense of right and wrong remains firmly intact.

This is why I programmed the sometimes painful story in To Kill a Mockingbird. I am aiming to awaken in our audience their innate sense of fairness and inspire them to act in the interest of everyone who still seeks justice, equality and freedom.

Allen MacInnis


Credit: Susan Douglas Rubes and Jan Rubes
Dana Osborne

Dana Osborne, the Set and Costume Designer of Kill a Mockingbird, on her approach to the show’s design.

A couple of key images kept repeating in our initial design discussions – they were the large oak trees of the Alabama, the Victorian fretwork on many of their porches, and the line from the book and the play “a thousand colours on a parched landscape”.  We wanted the set to be so simple that our imagination would be active in creating each location as Jean Louise tells her story.

I designed four 16′ wooden trees mixed with traditional fretwork and oak leaves as our show anchors coming up from the black stage floor.  Three of the trees swivel to help create different settings and there are two wooden platforms that can become different porches on her street or a judge’s desk in the courthouse.  Everything is painted to look like worn out exterior planks complete with peeling white paint.

For the costumes, we are creating the 1930’s Depression silhouette in the “thousand colours” of her “parched landscape”.  Well worn, broken down and practical, these costumes indicate the job and class of each character in Jean Louise’s southern town.  The best references for this period are the photographs of Eudora Welty and Walker Evans, plus the paintings and their palettes of Norman Rockwell.



In addition to the Arts (Drama), this study guide connects to the Language, Law, English and Social Studies curriculum.

By participating in the exercises in this study guide, students will:

  • Identify the point of view presented in oral texts and ask questions to identify missing or possible alternative points of view (e.g., use drama or role play to explore the perspective of the minor characters in a play).
  • Begin to identify, with support and direction, the speaker and the point of view presented in a text and suggest a possible alternative perspective (e.g., dramatize the story, taking on the role of different character).
  • Write short texts using a variety of forms.
  • Explain the role of civil rights in the American political experience.
  • Explain the concept of justice as defined by philosophers and legal scholars.
  • Identify the topic, purpose, and audience for several different types of writing tasks.
  • Use appropriate descriptive and evocative words, phrases, and expressions to make their writing clear and vivid for their intended audience.
  • Interpret and analyse information and evidence relevant to their investigations, using a variety of tools (e.g. graphic organizers).
  • Describe various psychological, social, material, or cultural conditions that are used to explain social change



Ask students:

  • What do you already know about To Kill a Mockingbird?
  • How do you define fairness?
  • Is there a difference between the law and justice? Explain your answer.
  • What were the “Jim Crow” laws?
  • What were some events taking place in the American South in the 1950’s that might have influenced Harper Lee?
  • What was the Scottsboro Trial?
  • It has been 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed.  What were some of the actions taken by those in the civil rights movement to achieve the passing of that landmark act? What more needs to be done to address the inequality that persists today?



Warm-up: Stand the Line

This activity provides an opportunity for students to explore and share their opinions on some of the themes in the play in a structured and non-judgmental setting. By using general statements and quotes from the play, students will examine their beliefs, hear alternate points of view, and have an opportunity to rethink their position on some of the major themes of the play.


  • A space in which to move


  1. Ask students to imagine a line running along the length of floor.
  2. Explain that a series of statements and quotes from the play will be read out loud and it is the students’ job to agree or disagree with the statements by choosing their position on the line on the floor.
  3. Define with the class the end of the line which represents “strongly agree” and then indicate that the opposite end represents “strongly disagree”. The midpoint of the room is a neutral position where students can stand if they neither agree nor disagree with the statement.
  4. When each statement is read aloud, students decide which place on the line represents their own opinion. They can stand anywhere on the line, near either end, or somewhere in the middle.
  5. After each statement is read, pick a few students to explain their choice of position. This is not a debate. The students’ viewpoints should not be judged, just shared.
  6. After a number of viewpoints have been shared on each statement or quote, offer students the chance to move to a new position on the line if they have changed their mind, or feel differently about the statement.


Children need to be protected from learning about the injustices in the world.
Everyone deserves to be treated fairly.
People with less money should not be trusted.
Children are born with a sense of fairness.
Honesty is not always the best policy.
Some people aren’t worthy compassion and forgiveness.
Racism is learned, so it can be unlearned.

Quotes from the Play:

“Grownups don’t have hiding places.”
“People generally see what they look for or hear what they listen for.”
“Having a gun around is just an invitation to somebody to shoot you.”
“…a court is only as sound as its jury.”

Debriefing Questions:

  • Did hearing the perspectives of fellow students change your ideas on any of the statements? Why or why not?
  • What or who would make you change your opinion?
  • Did you learn anything from hearing your classmate’s viewpoints?

Exercise: Research

As a class use the following graphic organizer to brainstorm a research approach to learn more about To Kill a Mockingbird.



  1. Divide students into groups of 4-6.
  2. Give students 15 minutes to brainstorm together about the different sections of the organizer. Let them know that they should not censor themselves or each other.
  3. When they have finished, give students a few minutes to discuss in their groups their findings. Were they surprised by any of the contributions made by fellow group members?
  4. Have groups present their organizers to the rest of the class.

Culminating Exercise: How do stories of the past define who we are today?


  • Writing utensils
  • Paper or notebooks
  • Space in which to move


  1. Both the novel and Christopher’s Sergel’s play of To Kill a Mockingbird are told through the eyes of a narrator reflecting on the events of their childhood. Ask students to think about a pivotal moment from their past that they would feel comfortable sharing in a story or scene that they will write.

Here are some prompts to help students begin:
Think of an important event from their past that changed their perspective on something.
When did they realize that their parents were individuals with a past and an identity not related to their role in the family.
Think of a time when their parents asked them to take on a big responsibility.
Think of a time when they disagreed with a teacher or authority figure over what they felt was unfair.

  1. Give the students time to write down their thoughts or experiences based on their chosen focus.
  2. Ask students to share what they have written to one or two students.
  3. Ask students to come up with a short scene based on their experiences.



Ask Students:

  • The book/play is controversial. YPT preserves the original language and uses the N-word. What do you think of this choice?
  • Why does Atticus choose to honestly explain to his 6-year old daughter, Scout, what rape is?
  • Is Mayella a perpetrator or a victim?
  • Is Atticus Finch a hero?
  • What kind of woman do you think Scout will grow up to be?
  • What is the significance/symbolism of the dog that Atticus shoots?
  • Explain the symbolism of the mockingbird.
  • Why are the children fascinated by Boo Radley?
  • Heck Tate: “There’s a black man dead for no reason and now the man responsible for it is dead. So let’s bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch.” Is justice served by Heck Tate’s decision?



Warm-up: Naming Characters

This exercise allows students to discuss how assumptions and stereotypes affect the process of giving a name to newly-created characters.


  • A space in which to move


  1. Ask students to spread out around the room. Have them start to walk around the space, not talking or interacting with each other.
  2. Explain that you will be calling out an animal (i.e. lion, giraffe, etc). Students are to move around the space like that animal.
  3. Ask students to freeze. Ask students to take notice the position of their hands, legs, feet and head. Now ask students to stand upright in a more ‘human’ position while trying to maintain the similar gestures of the animal pose.
  4. Ask students to think of a person/character that would move or gesture in the same way and to move around the space as that new character. Practice this with different animals, creating new characters.
  5. Form a circle. Have one student demonstrate one of the characters they created by moving within the circle. While the rest of the students watch, ask them to make observations about the new character being portrayed (i.e. Are they old or young? Do they look mean or friendly? Trusting or dishonest?).
  6. Ask the students to suggest the occupation of the new character being performed.

Debriefing Questions:

  • Was it easy to name the occupation of the new characters?
  • What were the characteristics that fed your suggestion? In reflection, can you identify any assumptions or judgements that you made in choosing the character occupation?
  • Do the characters in the play make similar assumptions or judgements about one another? What are they?
  • What do the characters in the play learn about the nature of a person’s character versus the assumptions that are made based on outward appearances and/or the values of their community?

Exercise: A Day in the Life

This exercise invites students to track the journey of a character through the play, providing an opportunity for students to understand character choices, motivations and actions.


  • Space in which to move

“You can never understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” –Atticus Finch

  1. Ask students to spread out around the room and sit/lay down and close their eyes.
  2. Read the following “A Day in the Life” excerpt.
  3. Ask students to choose a character that they would like to embody.
  4. Have students find a space on the floor on their own and instruct them not to speak.

A Day in the Life
It is the morning. You are lying in bed. What do you hear? What do you smell? Is your bed hard or soft? Think about the day ahead of you. What are your plans for the day? Who do you expect to see? Are you excited or nervous or do you not care at all about the day to come? It is hot already this morning. You get out of bed and get dressed in your favourite clothes and shoes. What do they look and feel like? Are the clothes old or new? You walk to the kitchen. What will you eat for breakfast? Do you see anyone else in your house? You finish with your breakfast and leave the house. Where do you need to get to? How will you get there? Walk, drive or ride a bike? You take a look around your neighbourhood. What do you see? Any neighbours out? Do you say hello?

Debriefing Questions:

  • Was it easy or hard for you to picture your character in the scenario?
  • Did you learn anything new about the character after participating in this exercise?
  • Did your character say hello to their neighbours? What does that tell you about his/ her status in their neighbourhood or community?

Culminating Exercise: Writing-in-Role

Working with the same character as the previous exercise, students will complete a writing-in-role exercise that will encourage examination of perspective and potential changes of perspective over time.



  1. Ask students to imagine that they are their character and it is now July 2nd, 1964 – the date the Civil Rights Act was passed in the U.S. Writing in role, ask students to write a letter to another character from the play with their thoughts on the passage of this act.
  2. To help students write-in-role, have them fill out the To Kill a Mockingbird Character Profile for their character.
  3. After students complete the Character Profile, have them write a first draft of their letter.
  4. Next ask them to share their letter with a partner for a peer review.
  5. Once they have received feedback,  ask them to write another draft of their letter.
  6. When they have a letter they are happy with give students time to rehearse reading the letter out loud.
  7. Ask students to share their letters with the rest of the class.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What was it like to write from a character’s point of view?
  • How did students imagine their characters at a different age?


Have students write the final draft of their letter on the To Kill a Mockingbird Stationery and send the letters to YPT!



Jon Kaplan’s Introduction to Student Reviewers

Theatre is, for me, an art form that tells me something about myself or gets me thinking about the world in which I live.

Whether going to the theatre as a reviewer or simply an audience member, I think that watching a play is an emotional experience and not just an intellectual one. I always let a show wash over me, letting it touch my feelings, and only later, after the show, do I try to analyze those feelings.

That’s when I start to think about some of the basic questions you ask when you’re writing a review – what did I see (story, characters, themes); how did I respond to what I saw; what parts of the production (script, performances, direction, design and possibly other elements) made me feel and think what I did; why was I supposed to respond in that fashion?

When you go to the theatre to review, take a few notes during a show if you feel comfortable doing so, but don’t spend your time writing the review during the show; you’ll miss what’s happening onstage.

Writing a review doesn’t mean providing a plot summary. That’s only part of the job; you have to discuss your reaction to what you saw and try to explore some of the reasons for that reaction.

I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as a totally objective piece of criticism. We are all individuals, bringing our own backgrounds, experiences and beliefs to a production. In some fashion, every one of us sitting in the theatre is a critic, no matter whether we’re writing a review or not; we all react to and form judgments about what we see on the stage.

When I go to a production, I always keep in mind that the people involved in putting it on have worked long and hard – weeks, months, sometimes years – getting it onto the stage. Even if I have problems with the result, it’s important to respect the efforts that went into the show.

Jon Kaplan is senior theatre writer at NOW Magazine, where he’s worked for the past 34 years.



Online News Articles & Videos:

Bloch, Josh & Wong, Moira. “Teaching Controversy.” n.p.  A Teaching Resource for Dealing with Controversial and Sensitive Issues in Toronto District School Board Classrooms. Toronto District School Board. (2003), pp. 48–49.

Gladwell, Malcolm. “The Court House Ring: Atticus Finch and the decline of southern liberalism.” The New Yorker. Aug 10, 2009.

Hodd, Thomas. “To kill a colonial curriculum.” The Toronto Star. Oct 21, 2009.

Italie, Hillel. “To Kill a Mockingbird finally going digital.” The Toronto Star. Apr 28, 2014.

Javed, Noor. “Complaint prompts school to kill Mockingbird.” The Toronto Star. Aug 12, 2009.

Kachka, Borris. “The Decline of Harper Lee.” Slate. July 21, 2014.

Huckleberry Finn and the N-word.” 60 Minutes. S43 (12:46). CBS. March 20, 2011.
Web. 1 Aug 2014.


Ontario Justice Education Network

Canadian Association for Civil Liberties

To Kill a Mockingbird Readers Guide: Historical and Literary Context.” The Big Read. National Endowment for the Arts. n.d. Web.

Reiling, Tracie.“To Kill a Mockingbird’s Relevance Today: Bryan Stevenson & Injustice.” Ted-Ed. n.d. Web.

Toronto Public Library Recommends….
The Toronto Public Library has created supplemental reading lists to help our audience connect with and explore more deeply the themes found within each of our 2014/15 season productions. Click on the titles below to link to the Toronto Public Library website. Happy reading!

If I Just Had Two Wings
Virginia Frances Schwartz
Toronto, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2001.

Jefferson’s Sons:  A Founding Father’s Secret Children
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
New York, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011.

Mockingbird:  A Portrait of Harper Lee
Charles Shields
New York, Henry Holt 2006.

Snow Falling on Cedars
David Guterson
New York Vintage Contemporaries, 1995.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963
Christopher Paul Curtis
New York Delacourte Press, 1995.